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How DMU Jazz recorded their debut Big Band album when everyone had to stay at home


As anyone who has heard or seen the jazz greats - from Duke Ellington and Count Basie to Harry Connick, Jr and Jamie Cullum – it’s all about the ensemble when it comes to creating that Big Band sound.

So when the 15-strong DMU Jazz Band was in the middle of recording a debut album and the COVID-19 lockdown was announced, you would think everything would have to be put on hold.

DMU Jazz Band singer Linda Bradshaw recording in her garage!

But in the true spirit of the adage ‘the show must go on’, the De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) band have continued with the recording and mixing sessions, thanks to the use of a mobile recording studio containing the latest tech.

The studio was driven to people’s houses, set up in the car, and each player or singer’s parts were recorded wirelessly on the driveway or street, ensuring social distancing was observed.

A close up of the mobile recording studio

It means the DMU Jazz debut album ‘Ladybird’ will get released as planned, to the excitement of Musical Director Gareth John, its members and their fans.

Gareth conducts

Gareth conducting the jazz band before the lockdown

Gareth explained: “We were lucky in that we managed to record the band as one unit at The Chantry last year (in The Gateway at DMU), which is a fantastic room to record in.

“But we still needed vocal and solo tracks and I was very fortunate to get the support of the DMU Music Department to bring on board some external help with remote recording.

“It meant players who were needed to record vocals or solos over the top of what had already been recorded, and didn't have home facilities, could do so safely.

“That was all thanks to Steve Nutter, from Sly Community Arts, and an impressive wireless remote recording setup, which he operated from the car!

“The band members were really keen and responsive and a pleasure to work with. It was a bit strange as I was on a video call to Steve and also the person being recorded, via Facebook messenger.

“The audio from that call was going straight into the musician's headphones, so I could talk to them in between takes. It was all very impressive and beyond my technical skills! Full credit to Steve and the musicians for making it work!”

So why is the album going to be called Ladybird?

“The initial idea was to call it 'Introducing...DMU Jazz Band',” Gareth explained. “But over the past couple of years, our version of 'Ladybird' - the first track we recorded and title track of the album -has become synonymous with the band playing live and is a real audience favourite.  

“With the creativity and flexibility that sprung off of that title, it made perfect sense for this to be the title for the album.  

“I've always believed it’s important to document the work you do creatively, whatever discipline you're in, and with plans to take the band onto the festival stage and out across the country as a touring outfit, I thought it was important that we have a catalogue of work to show potential promoters.

“Recording and releasing material also gives you a focus aside from just playing live, and makes you a better musician as it’s a completely different discipline.

“Releasing this debut album, 'Ladybird' for DMU Jazz Band has honestly been one of the proudest achievements of my career.”

Gareth, who is also a solo artist, bandleader of King Brasstards, vocal coach for Learning Without Limits Academy Trust and Head of Brass for The Mead Educational Trust, is in no doubt that music has an important role to play during lockdown.

He said: “I do a weekly livestream on my Facebook page and a comment I get every week from viewers is that I've brightened up their day just by performing.

“I think music and performance serve a really important role in keeping people positive during the current situation.

“This time, as well as being very tough for musicians, is also, in a strange way, an opportunity for musicians to take a breather and focus on doing the creative stuff that inspired us to go into this game in the first place. That should definitely be embraced by all musicians.”

DMU Jazz Band are currently running a competition among students to design the cover of the new album, which is due for release on Friday 3 July and will be available in physical CD format, as well as on streaming platforms such as Apple Music, SoundCloud, Amazon Music and Spotify.

•    As people explore new and different sounds during lockdown, we asked Gareth to recommend five jazz albums for people new to the genre.

Here are his recommendations:

'Kind of Blue' - Miles Davis - one of the more accessible Miles Davis records in my opinion, and some beautiful compositions, perfect for a chilled evening of reflection.

'Ella and Louis' - a warm collaboration between two of the greatest performers of all time in my view (Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong). Their vocal chemistry is awesome, and it’s the perfect album to listen to on a lazy Sunday at home.

'Twentysomething' - Jamie Cullum - one of Jamie Cullum's early releases with a great mix of original material and standards. Infectious energy and one of the jazz albums that inspired me as a teenager.

'Come By Me' - Harry Connick, Jr - probably my favourite album from the American singer-songwriter. Well delivered and some interesting renditions of jazz standards alongside his own songs.

'Embraceable You' - Chet Baker - a beautiful, honest record. It was tough to pick just one of his albums as he's a big inspiration of mine.

Posted on Monday 18th May 2020

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